Tiger nostalgia fuels hope for Tiger's future

By Joe PosnanskiFebruary 24, 2016, 2:49 pm

Most people will tell you that Tiger Woods played his best golf – and the best golf ever played – during that crazy stretch in 2000-01 when he won four major championships in a row. It's a strong argument. Woods was 25 then, and he was at the peak of his powers. In 2000, he led the PGA Tour in total driving, in ball striking, in birdies, in eagles, in greens hit in regulation and, of course, in scoring. He was the best at everything. His unadjusted scoring average of 68.17* is the lowest in golf history.

*The PGA Tour prefers to adjust scoring average so that it takes into account the scoring in the fields where they played. Tiger's 67.79 adjusted scoring average is tied for the lowest ever – tied, that is, with himself in 2007.

But his dominance goes beyond numbers. There was Tiger's mind-blowing performance at the 2000 U.S. Open. The USGA set up Pebble Beach to play impossibly hard; nobody in the world could break par on that course. I mean that literally – Ernie Els, perhaps the second-best player on earth at the time, played his guts out and shot 3 over par, good enough for second place.

Tiger Woods, of course, shot 12 under par.

That was probably the best golf ever played. Then again, three weeks later Woods went to St. Andrews, the birthplace of golf, and shot 19 under par, eight shots better than anyone else. So that was pretty good, too. Then he went to Louisville and won one of the great duels in golf history against the unknown but irrepressible Bob May. Then he won a few more tournaments, including The Players Championship, showed up in Augusta with the weight of history on his back, and simply won the Masters without too much tension. It was staggering.

But I would make the argument that the reason why Woods still hovers over the game – why people refuse to give up on him, why updates about his condition still make news, why Phil Mickelson celebrated him – does not have much to do with how the young Tiger played. There have been many incredible young athletes. Think Dwight Gooden in 1985. Think Herschel Walker as a freshman at Georgia or Pistol Pete Maravich at LSU. Think Monica Seles in the early 1990s when she was hitting every line. Think Johnny Miller when he was knocking down flagsticks in 1973 and '74.

It's not all that hard to let go of brilliant young athletes.

See, it isn't THAT Tiger Woods we miss. The Tiger Woods we miss, the one who still preys on our imagination, emerged 10 years ago, in 2006. I'm not sure Woods played better golf in 2006, but he was different. He was indomitable. He made us believe it could last forever. 

I often think of the Paul Newman movie "The Hustler," because it is the closest Hollywood ever came to capturing the powerful, mysterious and, yes, dark motivations that can separate winning and losing. Newman, as Fast Eddie Felson, had lost an epic, 48-hour, alcohol-fueled pool match with Minnesota Fats, and the loss sent him spiraling. The movie is about the painful and tragic journey that brought him back to the pool table as a different man – sadder, less idealistic and invincible.

"I quit, Eddie," Fats says in the climactic moment. "I can't beat you."

Well, Tiger's 2006 season reminded me of that movie. That was the year when Earl Woods died. Everyone knows that Earl shaped the life of his son both on the golf course and off. Earl had utterly convinced Tiger that he was destined for a spectacular life, big and grand and awe-inspiring. You could see it in the young Tiger: He was unshakeable. He had no doubts. Tiger KNEW he was going to kill the drive. He knew he was going to hit it close. He knew he was going to make the putt. He knew it absolutely. Earl had told him so.

When the father died in 2006, the son obviously was shaken. Tiger took nine weeks off and would admit, in a rare moment of disclosure, that he did not want to go back on the golf course. Everything there reminded him of Earl. He returned in time to play the U.S. Open and, for the first time in memory, he was not there. Tiger Woods' genius on the golf course, I think, came down to his ability to be absolutely and unconditionally present in the moment. When he hit a shot – at least from an outsider's point of view – he did not seem to dedicate even one or two percent of his brain to other things such as doubts or memories or a joke he'd heard or a song from the radio or where he'd go out for dinner. No, he seemed all in, 100 percent of mind and body and spirit, all dedicated to that precise shot and that exact instant.

But at that Open, he looked lost. Woods would not even take practice swings. He shot a couple of 76s that could have been even worse and for the first time in his professional career, he missed the cut at a major championship. In that moment, there was some concern: How well would Tiger play with his hero and best friend and father to guide him? What would the 30-something version of Tiger Woods look like?

He took another three weeks to get his head straight and his game together. And then Tiger returned. He went to the Western Open, had a sketchy opening round, worked a bit on the range with Hank Haney, and shot 12 under par the final three rounds to finish a close second.

Then, he went to Royal Liverpool, shot 18 under par, and breezed to victory for his second consecutive Open Championship title. That was his 11th major championship victory. 

Off to the Buick Open in Michigan, Woods shot four consecutive 66s to win easily.

He went to Medinah for the PGA Championship and matched the course record with a 65 on Saturday to give him a share of the lead with Luke Donald. Then, on Sunday, he ran away from the field, beating Donald by six shots and winning the tournament by five. That was his 12th major. He was three years ahead of Nicklaus' pace.

At the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Woods shot a final-round 68 to force a playoff with third-round leader Stewart Cink. Woods won the playoff on the fourth hole. That made his career playoff record 15-2. It was also his fourth victory in a row.

The next week, at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, he came from way behind on Sunday by shooting a 63, and he beat Vijay Singh by two shots. That was his fifth victory in a row.

After a poor American Ryder Cup – though Woods had a winning record and rolled in his singles match – he went right to the World Golf Championships and led wire-to-wire, opening with a 63 and closing with an eight-shot victory over Ian Poulter and Adam Scott. That was his sixth victory in a row, each one more dominant.

Then he obviously won his own tournament which doesn't count in the streak but is worth mentioning. And in January, at his next tournament, at the Buick Invitational, well, he won again, his seventh straight stroke-play victory.

That, I think, is when Woods convinced the rest of us that he would never stop. He was no longer the inspired young man overpowering golf courses and running away from the field. He was, instead, the master. Kids had come along who could hit the ball farther than he did. A few of them were better ball strikers than him. A handful could even match his putting. The golf courses were longer and tougher – "Tiger-proofed" was the description – and the aura that the young Tiger Woods had radiated was a bit faded.

But it didn't matter: He won anyway. He won every week.

"I mean how can I lose?" Fast Eddie Felson rapped as he won the final pool game. "Because you were right ... it's not enough that you just have talent. You gotta have character, too."

"Shoot pool, Fast Eddie," Minnesota Fats pleaded.

"I'm shooting pool, Fats," Eddie said. "When I miss, you can shoot."

That was Tiger Woods in 2006 ... and into 2007 ... and then in 2008 when he won that U.S. Open on one leg. Yes, of course, we thought it would last forever. Of course, we thought he would shatter Nicklaus' record for major championship victories. Of course, we did.

Then it ended, suddenly, maddeningly, with a scandal and a series of injuries and swing changes and more injuries. Now Woods is 40, he's hurt, he hasn't played golf in six months, and there's no word when he will play again. Wednesday came a semi-update, in the form of a relaxed 9-iron shot in a simulator.

Phil Mickelson talks about how no one today is "remotely close to the level of performance Tiger was in his prime," which, let's be honest, is the sort of thing you say about some long-gone legend who ain't coming back.

We as golf fans don't want to accept any of it. That year, 2006, doesn't seem that long ago.

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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.